Agriculture....

"Agriculture is the Backbone of our Nation"

Friday, 12 October 2012

One Year on; Still Going on Strong

by Ras Benaiah Gicuki
It’s now slightly over one year since Shiriki Organization initiated a community project at Maragua based mainly on natural farming techniques. The project was started with a long-term objective of establishing a community agricultural training centre which would be of benefit to the immediate as well as the neighboring communities. Our immediate goals are to ensure food security and environment conservation and restoration, to be achieved through seeking natural and modern methods of agriculture.
So far, we wish to express lots of gratitude first to the Almighty Creator who has been our primary inspiration and source of life, then to the community of Maragua area which warmly welcomed us to be part of them despite being total strangers to them, and also to all people near and far who have assisted us in a way or another or who have keenly followed our progress. Without your support and cooperation, our highly esteemed ends will remain only but a fleeting illusion!
To have rehabilitated an almost 2-acre coach-grass infested parcel of land, and put it under an intercrop of indigenous food-crops, trees and herbs without the use of chemicals; this could not be achieved by lazy nor rash men. This, again, could be nothing short of a miracle before the eyes of local farmers who apparently cannot bear the burden of the expensive and intoxicating chemicals imposed upon them by capitalistic investors in the agricultural sector.
Then - early in the project
Now - a plot of Ethiopian kales and spinach

Natural farming, as compared to chemical farming where a farmer can easily eliminate a given pest, weed or disease and can maintain a luxuriant field of crops, calls for patience coupled with a high sense of consciousness and discipline. These God-given virtues are quite uncommon among the youths of today, but I believe they are inherent in all humans for man is made in the likeness of the Creator. Additionally, for one to embark and stand resolute in organic farming, it is equivalent to entering into a battlefront where one’s strength of arms and determination really matter. This being so, it calls for unified efforts at the onslaught, this backing an old adage that ‘unity is strength’. We can therefore proudly attribute our progress so far to the Inity (unity) of brothers and sisters having a common interest of restoring our land and wealth. An ancient elder, when sharing his wise-mind the other day, found us tilling the field when he remarked that a home without the young men is always vulnerable to attacks. The interpretation to this is that through the massive exodus of youth from the rural to the cities and towns has left the aged and a few youth remnants to be easily deceived into use of chemical. And it is clear that the more the knowledgeable and strong youth continues to be away from the land, the worse the situation gets, meaning it will take much more sacrifice to restore sanity in this occupation. 


Organic & Inity! the only strength to overcome 'deadly shortcuts'
Chemical! lush cucumbers at the neighbor's
It is not the strength nor the will, nor the determination of those who fight us that will lead to our downfall but the weakness of our unity. This wise teaching has been a constant source of encouragement to nurture the seed of Inity (unity) which the Almighty JAH in His Love has sown within our hearts.
 
Loyal Volunteers

Our two latest volunteers, Ras Mwangi and Ras Mathaara, who entered the camp in mid July, have grown in this communal Livity to become epitomes of spirited and disciplined young farmers. The couple abandoned the dull lives they were used to back in the ghetto when they realized the need to serve the community through Shiriki Organization and thus reap the mutual and manifold benefits.

“I have Livicated myself for an indefinite period of time and I&I want when I break from the camp to have graduated in this institution of natural way of life…” says Ras Mwangi, adding, “One of my first lessons was how to irrigate young crops. The brother guided I on how to water young beans, and now to see the fruit thereof it heals I&I!” This he says as we harvest the first fruits of indigenous beans that is currently nourishing the volunteers.  For Ras Mathaara, he hardly leaves the farm, tending the humble plants.
It is within that first year of our activities in the farm at Maragua that we have seen one of our highly cherished visions come to fruition – that of acquiring expert training in food production and farm management. In this vein, Ras Rukundo, a volunteer whose Livication has been of immeasurable value, embarked on an expert training course in Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development in the prestigious Baraka Agricultural College, Molo (www.sustainableag.org). The 18-month course is just but the beginning of a long-term venture of seeking and sharing expert knowledge in the agricultural value chain and rural development.


Ras Mwangi (L) and I on a beans harvest
Ras Rukundo with a local family.
Experience is the best teacher, so the saying goes, and it can’t fit better than in the enterprise of farming. The one year that we have been in the field has taught us crucial lessons that will guide us in future seasons. The lessons span right from seed to fruit, entailing land preparation, techniques of breaking seed dormancy, sowing and spacing, watering and caring, pest and disease control, as well as harvesting and preserving. By now, we have been able to study a few of the crops with their respective potentials, all this with an aim of identifying the best suited ones for this area that will lead us to processing and packaging the surplus thereby reviving agro-industries in the rural communities.
Beans under irrigation have given us a very positive result, while cassava which we planted right on our arrival and have kept planting on daily basis has been to us like an underground food-bank. Comphrey, Ethiopian kale and spinach add to this list. They have only mild pest/disease attacks, these being the daunting enemies in the course of production. On the flip side we have had corn for the April – August season, which was a poor performer not only in our farm but also to the majority of farmers in Kenya. Consequently, we’ve decided to reduce investment on maize and try sorghum in the forthcoming season for sustainability. Myself I look forward to the day when this highly dominating food-crop, and which is so demanding in terms of input, will cede its dominance and allow for the restoration of Afrikan indigenous cereals such as the nutritious millet and sorghum, just but a few examples.

A good performance of beans under irrigation
Indigenous bananas and cassava plantation

With the coming of a new season whose rains are increasingly showing the signs of arrival, and with the beginning of the second year of our project, our vision of a sustained Afrika slowly comes to reality. We, who have advanced in this mission, have vowed not to relent in our efforts until all the hungry are fed. We urge fellow youth to take up agriculture as a learning course and as an occupation, knowing that despite its neglect and the sabotage upon farmers, without farming there can be no food which is the stuff of life for all. 

“If only [Ethiopia], with an assured wealth of natural resources, would look at what the barren Sahara Desert has been made to produce by the endeavour of trained scientists, she would realize that science is a source of wealth.” H.I.M. Haile Selassie I


Papayas! a potential crop for juice industry

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Guiding Instructions: Utterances of the King of Kings

by Ras Benaiah Gicuki

Greetings of Love to all our beloved readers the world over.

Towards the end of last month, July, the whole world came together to commemorate the 120th Birthday of His Imperial Majesty Qedamawe Haile Selassie of Ethiopia.

To us at Shiriki Organization, it was more than a birthday celebration of a great leader; it was a moment of spiritual retreat in order to reflect on our relationship with our Lord. Ever since accepting the responsibility of running the business of the Imperial Government of Ethiopia at about 24 years of age, His Majesty Haile Selassie I’s utterances have been of much needed guidance to entire humanity around the globe in virtually all fields of life. The copiousness of His speeches, which are recorded in volumes in different languages, reveals the King’s wide scope of His perspective and the depth and breadth of His knowledge.

Therefore, it is the duty of every volunteer at Shiriki Organization to study and seek overstanding of the utterances of His Majesty, for besides HIM being a Government leader He is also a Spiritual Father. It is a fact that we, who are called by His name, Rastafari, authoritatively say that the speeches of the King of Kings are the Now Testament.

It is my pleasure, thus, on this post, to share these wise sayings as He remarks and instructs us on matters pertaining to Agriculture.

H.I.M. Haile Selassie I, King of Kings & Lord of Lords.

INAUGURATING THE IMPERIAL ETHIOPIAN COLLEGE OF AGRICULTURE & MECHANICAL ARTS [Alem-Maya, Harar :: Thur. Jan. 16th 1958]

A country and a people that become self-sufficient by the development of Agriculture can look forward with confidence to the future. Agriculture is not only the chief among those fundamental and ancient tasks which have been essential to the survival of mankind, but also ranks first among the prerequisites to industrial and other developments.

History can afford us ample evidence that mankind abandoned its nomadic way of life and developed a settled, communal economy only when man became skilled and competent in agricultural techniques. From the beginnings of recorded history, right up to the Middle Ages, and even as late as the beginning of the Industrial Age in which we now live, agriculture has always constituted the fundamental source of wealth for the human race.

Only when a solid agricultural base has been laid for our country’s commercial and industrial growth can we ensure the attainment of the ultimate goal of Our development program, namely, a high standard of living for our people.

Commerce and industry, being concerned in the main with development and distribution, can only develop and profit from existing resources, but cannot actually create things which did not exist before.

Even in this nuclear age, in spite of the revolutionary changes in man’s way of life which science has brought about, the problem of further improving and perfecting agricultural methods continues to hold a position of high priority for the human race. 
It is hard to believe that a substitute can be found for the occupation of agriculture – a sacred task graciously conferred upon man by JAH to serve as the source of his wellbeing and basis of his wealth.

Agriculture and industry are indispensable one to the other. Only close cooperation between these two branches of knowledge can guarantee the fulfillment of Our program of economic development for Our country.

As we have already made it clear to you in Our previous statement, capital is an essential prerequisite for initiating all undertakings, whatever their nature. We have, therefore, made credit available for you which, when properly used, would enable you to achieve your development objective in the fields of agriculture, forestry, stock breeding, health services, and in the sphere of other development programmes.

AIDING THE FARMER
Nov. 3rd 1959

For those of you who possess the land and labour but lack capital, we have made credit available at low interest. For those of you who have the necessary finance but do not possess land to work on, We have, in accordance with Our proclamation which entitled every Ethiopian to ownership of land, established offices in every province through which you may be able to acquire land. Those who have neither land nor money will be granted land and a financial loan at low interest. For those of you who possess the land, who have financial resources and manpower We have made experts available to furnish you with the necessary guidance and advice in your various undertakings. With the knowledge that unity and cooperation are themselves strength, take advantage of the possibilities that We have opened to you.

ENCOURAGING AGRICULTURE
Nov. 3rd 1959

Agriculture, the backbone of the nation’s economy, has received its proper share of attention in Our Government’s planning. Intensive efforts are being made to improve farming techniques. The cotton project at Tendaho is moving out of the experimental stage. Enlarged veterinarian services will improve the quality of Ethiopia’s cattle, thus multiplying many times over the wealth which exists in the country’s livestock population…

A coordinated locust control project, undertaken in common with neighbouring countries, promises to reduce, if not immediately to eliminate entirely, the ravages which this insect pest has inflicted in the past upon Ethiopia’s crops. Grain storage facilities are being constructed which will serve to guard against the economic and social disturbances which arise when shortages occur. Measures will shortly be proposed to Parliament for action to be taken to preserve, for the benefit of present and future generations, the nation’s forests which are not only valuable in themselves as a source of wood, but act as nature’s guardian against the forces of erosion, which, unchecked, can transform fertile areas into barren and sterile desert.

ARBOUR DAY; AFFORESTATION
 Jul. 19th 1958

It is a matter of great concern for Us that the forest wealth which God in His mercy has bestowed upon Our country is thus being continually reduced and wasted. Hence it becomes the duty and obligation of every single Ethiopian to become aware of the tremendous industrial and agricultural advantages to be derived from Our forest resources, and to practice tree-planting, in order that Our hills and plains which have been stripped of their wooded cover may once again be clothed in their green mantle.

The increasing pace of deforestation and the growing dearth of timber in Ethiopia, caused by unregulated tree-cutting and the failure to replace these by new plantings, give Us occasion of anxiety that a severe economic problem will confront the coming generations. It is essential that steps be taken here and now to stop this wastage and check this destruction.

It is Our wish and Our desire that each and every citizen of Our country follow the example We set on this Arbour Day in planting this tree, and himself plant as many as he can, for his own benefit as well as for the benefit of future generations.


AGRICULTURAL DEVELEOPMENT CENTER IN AWASSA
Jul. 23rd 1960

Every structure must be built on a solid foundation, for those constructed otherwise would soon collapse. The proclamation by which We made land grants to the entire Ethiopian people is the foundation of this scheme. Recipients of land grants as well as those who had previously owned their own holding do not by mere owning of such land satisfy the requirements. They must make proper use of the land not only for their own benefit but as well to that of the people – We shall not permit any land to be fallow.

Our forefathers had fought to preserve the independence of Our country so that we may be able to exploit its rich resources, thereby enriching ourselves but not so that it may lay barren as to excite the envy of others and invite again the usurper. 

Therefore, in order to escape from such a catastrophe which become a lazy leader and lazy followers, it is Our duty to teach Our people to labour unceasingly for the development of Our country and to struggle for the attainment of a decent standard of living. For, there is no need of education to the wise nor doctors for the healthy.


AGRICULTURE & LAND REFORM
Nov. 2nd 1961

Ethiopia cannot, as some would suggest, look to industry for funds. Without agricultural expansion, industrial growth is impossible. Great strides, it is true, have been made in introducing industries into Ethiopia in recent years. But in any less-developed agrarian country, possessing only limited possibilities for selling the products of its factories in world export markets, industry can grow only if there exists an increasingly prosperous rural consumer population. Industrialization is not an alternative to the development of agriculture; rather the development of agriculture is the essential pre-condition to the growth of industry.

The fundamental obstacle to the realization of the full measure of Ethiopia’s agricultural potential has been, simply stated, lack of security in the land. The fruits of the farmer’s labour must be enjoyed by him whose toil has produced the crop.



Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Report from Azania; YoBloCo Awards Prize Giving | IAALD Africa 2012 Conference

by Ras Benaiah

Two weeks ago, between 20th and 23rd May 2012, the long-awaited ARDYIS YoBloCo Awards Prize giving ceremony and IAALD conference on “e-Agriculture for Improved Livelihoods and food security in Africa" took place in Johannesburg, South Afrika.

The four days we spent in Johannesburg were marked by extensive networking, sharing of experiences, knowledge and other resources, all this in the framework of the series of conferences held. In attendance was a cross-section of players in the ICT and agricultural sectors of development from various countries around the globe. Amongst the participants of the above events was a group of around twenty agricultural bloggers, I being one of them, who were sponsored by The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA). I earned this sponsorship by virtue of being the author of this blog which emerged the runner-up in Eastern Afrika region in the 2011/12 YoBloCo Awards blog competition.

I give thanks to the CTA for granting me such a precious opportunity to meet and share with fellow youth who indeed are the strength of the nation and thus the hope for a developed Afrika, Asia and Pacific. We acknowledge the youth population as the vehicle through which Afrika’s aim of self-sufficiency in food can be realized. We, at Shiriki Organization invest in empowering the youth in rural areas who are partaking in agricultural and environment conservation activities. We also clearly recognize the fact that agriculture is the backbone of our nation’s economy. 

For a comprehensive report on the IAALD Africa 2012 Conference and ARDYIS activities
Johannesburg, 20 to 23 May 2012, including the presentations papers made, it’s my pleasure to direct you all to my fellow blogger’s excellent compilation; Nawsheen’sWorld>’ Highlights: 3rd IAALD Africa Chapter Conference and YoBloCo Awards -20-23 May, Johannesburg, South Africa’. Ms Nawsheen was the proud winner of the 1st Prize in YoBloCo’s Individual category, congratulations!

Nevertheless, I wish to share some of my own observations and experiences for I feel our readers should take pride in this prestigious visit and may contribute their views based on this report. I cannot forget the role you played during the ARDYIS YoBloCo Awards blog competition voting season last December, which contributed to us becoming the runner-up in the Eastern Afrikan region. 

 
36,000 FEET HIGH IN THE AIR

My recent trip to Johannesburg was a first-time experience in the air. I therefore had eagerly waited for this day when I would scale to heights and behold the land of my ancestors. 

It is incredible how man has been able to convert the wisdom of JAH into today’s science and technology such that a vessel as heavy as an aircraft can float in the air 36,000 feet above the sea level. It makes me wonder how, with an array of such technology, still we have people in the world that can’t access even their daily basic human needs and this is not out of their fault but due to the greed of a few.

In the KQ vessel, I sat next to a window, where I would explore the scenes and sights from the heights thus giving me a pleasant feeling. Our route would be southwards cutting across Tanganyika, then into Malawi, Zimbabwe before entering Azania. While in the airs of the Tanganyika land, we flew west of the greatest and snow-capped mountain upon this land, Kilimanjaro.

Kilimanjaro from the plane.


However, realizing the role transport & communication sector plays in the development of a nation, I clearly noticed a disproportion where only a small percentage of native Afrikans, who inherently have the duty of developing their own nation, get to travel around their land. This is as compared to our brothers and sisters of other origins who traverse Afrika and know every nook and cranny of the continent. 


CONFERENCE; CAPACITY ENHANCEMENT

In a nutshell, for me to participate in the ARDYIS/IAALD activities was a vital opportunity that has left me more empowered in the area of ICT and agriculture than before. For instance prior to this, I was typically using the organization’s Facebook and Blogger pages to highlight our activities and to communicate externally but being oblivious of how to professionally employ Web 2.0tools for effective communication. But courtesy of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, which was represented in the IAALD conference, I was glad to receive a set of Information Management Resource Kit (iMARK), an e-learning programme in agricultural information management which incorporates a course in Web 2.0 and Social Media for Development. 

In addition, several other organizations and agencies that took part in the IAALD Conference were kind enough to give us, the participants, knowledge in form of printed magazines and pamphlets as well as in soft copies. I learnt of an essential source of knowledge for us in the field of disseminating agricultural information– i.e. The Essential Electronic Agricultural Library, (TEEAL), an offline, entirely self-contained compilation of the most important journal literature in agriculture and related fields. 


CTA WORKSHOP, IAALD CONFERENCES

Our first sitting was a consultative workshop on ‘Using ICT to strengthen youth opportunities in agriculture and rural areas’ organized by the CTA under the ARDYIS Project. Participants of this workshop were drawn from the Afrika, Caribbean & Pacific (ACP) and European Union (EU) countries. After we became acquainted to one another, we had a welcome note from CTA’s Mr. Ken Lohento who is the ICT4D (ICT for Development) Programme Coordinator. 

Mr. Giorgio Bellinzas; ARDYIS YoBloCo Awards.


Also in the opening remarks was Mr. Sebastian Chakeredza of African network forAgriculture, Agroforestry and Natural Resources Education (ANAFE). Mr. Chakeredza is also a member of the advisory committee for the CTA’s ARDYIS Project.

Following that was the presentation of selected blogs among the award-winning ones. They included;
1.“Technology4Agri-Anextension of the Agribusiness of UWI”; – presented by Keron Bascombe (Agribusiness Society of the University of the West Indies)
2.“Nawsheen’s World”; - presented by the blog author Ms Nawsheen Hosenally from Mauritius
3.“Riziculteurs du Mono etdu Couffo”; - presented by Emmanuel Anago Codjo from Benin.

As one of the constituents of the ARDYIS Advisory Committee, Yam Pukri Association’s (Burkina Faso) Mr. Sylvestre Ouedraogo briefly shared with the participants on their experience in working with the CTA.

In the consequent IAALD conferences, we had an array of PowerPoint presentations of researches highlighting how different players in the ICT sector have been contributing towards gathering, compiling and disseminating agricultural-related information. 
The vastness and versatility of the ICT world allows for a myriad ways and levels of applying the tools thereof in strengthening the agricultural sector.  Well, at Shiriki, we can at least use some of the Web 2.0 tools such as this blog which you are perusing right now. Some individuals and organizations that are well established in ICT have databases with masses of agricultural information. Such a database is run by Biovision Africa Trust. This is a non-profit organization that promotes sustainable agriculture through bridging the digital divide and removing information barriers facing smallholder farmers. It supports dissemination of information on Organic Farming in 4 Health pillars – Plant Health, Animal Health, Environment Health and Human Health. The organization is also involved in the Ecological Organic Agriculture (EOA) Initiative for Africa, a flagship project for promoting EOA in Africa which is in its pilot phase. Biovision Africa Trust disseminates their information digitally, in magazines, radio programs and through their rural-based Information Resource Centre.

In Kenya, according to a presentation made by Mr. Oliver Kirui of International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre, M-Pesa technology built by Safaricom is an example of an ICT tool that impacts on farmers’ lives by providing telephone banking and easy sending and receiving of money in the agricultural value chain. 


COMMUNITY RADIOS EFFECTIVE

On a case study done in Benin, a paper was presented on how the local radio stations contribute toward empowering rice farmers, this being done under the framework of institutional contracts with the Ministry Agriculture. 

The fact that a reasonable proportion of rural folks are illiterate qualifies community radios as an extension tool that can reach millions of illiterate farmers and provide them with information relating to all aspects of agricultural production, processing and marketing in a language they understand. All that the radio stations need to do, therefore, is to first bring in expertise from the various disciplines of agriculture and rural development. Then, according to the targeted farmers’ concerns, there should be designed radio programs meant to satisfy the farmers on their queries and also to dish out new ideas and facts of help to the audience. When combined with mobile telephony, this will enable listeners to phone in during interactive radio programs and present their questions or contributions. Short Text Messaging for the literate ones is also a quite cheap service at the farmers’ disposal which can be employed as a two-way communication with experts in the radio stations.
Educational Agricultural Videos
Another effective ICT tool is the use of videos. Simple demonstration videos constitute educative narrations and visual expressions on a given subject. The combination of audio and visual creates a synergy in imparting knowledge to the farmer and in turn leaves him in a better position to practically apply his lessons.
Thanks to my interests in video production, I was fortunate to meet a brother who introduced me to 'Integrating Low-Cost Video into Agricultural DevelopmentProjects: A Toolkit for Practitioners'. The toolkit, published by the USAID-funded FACET project, is a practical guide to using low-cost video—providing an up-to-date summary of everything you’ll need to consider—from messaging to production and dissemination. When it comes to exhibition as part of video production, I would propose big screen public filming of the videos in local centres. 

Kenya’s Ministry of Communication has, for years, been running such kind of public filming around the rural centres but not necessarily disseminating agricultural information; I think this is high time the Ministry stopped slacking and started working with youth organizations in broadcasting informative agricultural films for development.

All who attended the IAALD Africa 2012 Conference in Johannesburg were representing the rural folks of their respective origins and each presented the issues that we think can be tackled by infusing ICT tools. It is the peoples of the ACP countries that will definitely fall under the system’s classification of those ‘living-at-less-than-a-dollar-a-day’... But when I see such big names as FAO(of the UN), FARA, CTA, ITOCA, INFITA, EFITA, ANAFE, congregate in a conference, the next scene should be a sustained Afrika! How come today, while each nation of the world is boasting great technological advancements in information, we have more ignorant, hungrier and sicker peoples not to mention the wars which hinder national developments? It is my strong hope that these international organizations will take their full responsibility that they have upon the human race.

Yes we are!




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